In a move that is only likely to worsen already strained relations between Indigenous groups and Broken Hill City Council, the Council decided on Friday morning to postpone a planned meeting with the Aboriginal Community Working Party (CWP) after the Wilyakali Aboriginal Corporation called for an investigation into the Mayor’s conduct.
Last week a majority of councillors voted – without any community consultation – to stop paying for Welcome to Country events. That move was followed by claims of racism by the CWP.
Mayor Tom Kennedy said he would meet with Aboriginal representatives on Friday but an explosive statement released Thursday afternoon by the chair and deputy chair of the Wilyakali Aboriginal Corporation saw them officially request an investigation into the conduct of Mayor Tom Kennedy by the Broken Hill City Council General Manager, around what they said were violations of the Council’s own Code of Conduct, particularly regarding bullying and the use of social media.
“As elected officials, councillors should be aware of the breaches of the Council’s own Code of Conduct and the Anti-Discrimination Act that has occurred in the areas of fairness and equity, bullying, harassment, and use of social media due to certain Councillor’s behaviour since the Council meeting,” the statement from Vice Chairperson of the Wilyakali Aboriginal Corporation, Jarred Menz and Chairperson Sandra Clark.
The statement pointed to Mayor Kennedy’s use of Facebook and an appearance on radio. He is a prolific user of the social media channel.
“Listening to Mayor Kennedy on the radio and witnessing the comments on Mayor Kennedy’s personal Facebook page was astonishing and hurtful, the fact Mayor Kennedy allowed racist remarks and uninformed perceptions of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal people.
“Most upsetting was allowing negative racial remarks to continue consistently over a week before removing the post on Facebook,” said Mr Menz.
Following the statement from Wilyakali Aboriginal Corporation, Council postponed the scheduled Friday meeting, with Mayor Kennedy saying it was unfortunate the group had chosen to escalate the matter the day before discussions were to be held to find a compromise.
“I’d had a lot of good conversations with members of the Aboriginal community, and we were absolutely ready to meet in good faith and find a way forward, but this move by the Wilyakali group has obviously complicated things,” said Mayor Kennedy.
“It’s very difficult to hold an open and productive meeting when two parties are going to be involved in a Code of Conduct matter, so we’ll have to postpone for now and see if we can find a way forward by some other means as soon as possible.”
Although he did not walk the Council’s stance completely back, Cllr Kennedy did concede the matter could have been better explained from the outset and offered a potential compromise.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I think all parties should have been more transparent around Welcome to Country processes and payment, and we certainly take responsibility for our part in that,” he said.
“The current system is very transactional, it’s effectively a fee for service. We’re paying individuals to deliver the Welcome as if they’re Council contractors,” he said.
“I’d like to see Council take the money it spends each year on Welcome to Country fees and donate it to the Aboriginal Community Working Party.”